This week some of us will be celebrating Valentine’s Day, the one day a year completely given over to romance. In some ways, it feels like a holiday made for those newly in love, when the other person’s flaws are still adorable instead of annoying. But I think there’s also romance in seasoned love that comes from seeing each other clearly and learning how to relate to each other.
Research on middle-age couples shows that in some ways, relationships do get better with time and age. Three times over a thirteen-year period, researchers watched and coded the interactions of two groups of couples. One group was composed of couples who were 40 to 50 years old and had been married at least 15 years. The second group included couples who were 60 to 70 years old and had been married at least 35 years.
The researchers found that negative emotional behaviors such as belligerence, defensiveness, fear/tension, and whining decreased with age. Meanwhile, positive emotional behavior, like humor, enthusiasm, and validation, increased with age. This happened with both the younger and older group of couples, showing that long-term married couples have much to look forward to, even if the early and middling years were rough.
I don’t know about you, but that does my heart a lot of good, no matter what holiday we’re celebrating!
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.
I can personally think of many couples for whom these observations are true. The more tolerant and forgiving you learn to be, the better the chances of staying together. And a sense of humor and being able to laugh at one’s differences rather than fighting about them.
But I have to say that this doesn’t necessarily mean that these long marriages are also all traditional and perfect in sexual fidelity and monogamy. In other words, these are marriages that sometimes stay together through circumstances that would have doomed other marriages. They are couples who realize that it doesn’t make sense to divorce and realign retirements, property, vacation homes, long-term in-law relationships, introduce step children with each other, and change who they file federal income tax forms jointly with just so they can, for example, have sex with someone in a way society considers proper and ethical.
It’s not enough to be a valid scientific sample, but of the approximately five 40+year marriages I know of, at least four of them survived extramarital affairs or became a quietly “open” marriage. Yet these marriages survived because of exactly the qualities described in the article.